The country of Portugal, nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, has a rich culinary history. The nation’s proximity to the water has most notably influenced its dishes in the way of seafood, but is also known for exquisite meat dishes, desserts, and drinks. Let’s take a trip to the kitchen and explore 15 traditional Portuguese foods to try.
Like many cultures, Portugal is known for both sweet and savory breakfast dishes. From warm papo-seco to sugary Pastel de nata, these breakfast dishes won’t disappoint.
Papo-secos are by far the most popular breakfast bread in Portugal. They are typically used to make traditional Portuguese toasted sandwiches. They often contain cheese, ham, or both. Another common breakfast bread is pão de milho. This is one of the oldest traditional Portuguese breads and is somewhat similar to cornbread.
2. Pastel de Nata
On the sweeter side of breakfast, pastel de natas are quite common. In essence, these are small custard tarts. Americans may recognize the consistency of the pastry to be similar to puff pastry. Their sugary, creamy filling makes these a favorite in Portugal. But they aren’t just for breakfast! It is not uncommon to see these treats served as dessert.
3. Portuguese Coffee
No breakfast in Portugal is complete without the addition of coffee. Practically every location that sells breakfast foods will also be able to pour you a cup of coffee. These drinks are traditionally referred to as “bica” and are espresso-based. They are usually poured at slightly higher volumes than their Italian counterparts, making them comparably lighter and smoother.
Both lunch and dinner are heavily influenced by fish and meat in Portugal. Some of the most famous dishes include tasty fish like cod and sardines, as well as traditional meats like beef and poultry.
4. Caldo Verde
Literally translating to green soup, caldo verde is a famous dish originating from the north of Portugal. The soup base is created from dark green cabbage, an item that isn’t very easy to find outside of the country. Depending on the chef, this soup can contain potato slices, olive oil, and various kinds of Portuguese sausage.
5. Codfish and Sardines
One of the most celebrated regional foods in Portugal is bacalhau, or Portuguese codfish. There are dozens of ways to prepare this local fish: baked, fried, canned, or grilled. Along these seafaring lines, no discussion of Portuguese cuisine would be complete without sardines. At one point in time, the average citizen consumed 12 pounds a year, almost 60% of this is consumed fresh.
These traditional marinated pork sandwiches should not be missed on a trip to Portugal. Typically, they are served on crunchy white bread and served with soup or fries. Every kitchen will claim their own perfect house marinade, but each of them is worthy of a lunchtime stop.
Dinner can be a hearty meal in Portugal. For those of you still craving seafood, there is no shortage here.
7. Polvo à la Lagareiro
This dish, while spectacular, is slightly different from others on this list. For starters, “polvo” translates to octopus. Lagareiro refers to a method of cooking that uses liberal amounts of Portuguese olive oil. Normally, this dish is served with boiled potatoes, while the octopus itself is baked or roasted.
8. Porco Preto
While this is definitely one of the more expensive dishes on the list, it is absolutely worth a try. Porco preto is a specific kind of cured ham that comes from a specific population of pigs. You can think of this as akin to Kobe beef in the cow world. The pigs are raised in the Alentejo region of Portugal and are not to be missed.
9. Chicken Piri-Piri
This delicious dish is revered by spice lovers in Portugal and around the World. Peri-peri (or Piri-Piri, depends on the place) is a specific type of pepper that is alleged to have been brought back from Mozambique by Portuguese explorers in the 15th or 16th century. Portuguese chefs make a specific sauce from these peppers and serve it with chips, french fries, or even with sardines!
Now that the savory dishes of lunch and dinner are over, let’s turn our attention to desserts. Many desserts in Portugal center around sweet breads and cakes.
10. Baba de Camelo
Translated, baba de camelo means ‘camels drool’. Thankfully, this dish tastes far more wonderful than how it sounds. This dessert is renowned for its ease of preparation: only eggs and milk are required. Egg whites and yolks are whisked separately then combined with the milk. This dish is often served with crumbled chocolate, granola, or other crunchy garnish.
11. Natas do Céu
This dish is visually analogous to a traditional parfait. The top layer is a specific type of egg ‘jam’. The second layer is a hardened mixture of egg whites, cream, and sugar. The last layer is composed of crushed Maria biscuits. Depending on the size of the glass the dessert is served in, the last two layers may be repeated.
Rabanadas are a traditional Portuguese holiday dessert. They are typically served during the Christmas season. The first step of rabanada preparation is soaking slices of bread in wine, syrup, or milk. The slices are then dipped in egg and fried. From there, the sweet slices can be garnished with chocolates or fruits.
Depending on the type of drink, the age of consumption in Portugal is either 16 or 18. This means that - in Portugal - high school or college-aged individuals can also enjoy these drinks with their families.
This is one of the most famous beverages originating in Portugal. Port is a type of dessert wine and is typically a sweet, heavier, fortified red wine. The grapes originate in the Douro Valley of northern Portugal, and dozens of varieties are available.
While not a common spirit in many other places in the world, ginja has found a home in Portugal. This beverage can be found throughout Portugal, but it is most common in Lisbon. It is distilled from cherries and has a slightly sour flavor.
This drink can be widely found in restaurants and cafes throughout Portugal. It is made from a multitude of different herbs, seeds, and spices: eucalyptus, rosemary, cinnamon, and lavender. It has a slightly floral and herbaceous taste and is typically drunk neat.
Do you have any other Portuguese favorites we may have missed? Let us know in the comments!
And be sure to try our own delicious Portuguese sardines, get yours here!
Article written by Patrick O'Hare on June 15, 2020.